If You Think America’s Future Looks Bleaker Than Ever, You’re Right. Here’s Why.
When I look into America’s future, I see very dark days ahead. Four reasons — or factors — keep jumping out at me, none good. But together? They make up a perfect storm of fascism.
Worse conditions, it must be said, than in the Trump years.
Let’s go through the factors one by one, and you can judge for yourself. Is America heading into a perfect storm of fascism?
Let’s begin with the most obvious factor. The Republican base is consumed by violence.
It’s not just about lurid fantasies of violence, but the real thing. There are footsoldiers on the streets — teenagers — being driven to violence and being rewarded for it. They’re then acquitted at trial by juries of their sympathetic peers and lenient judges who intercede for them.
That’s not an isolated event anymore: It’s a trend. The American right now feels it’s open season. It seems they feel like they can hunt and kill their opponents with impunity. The sad fact is that so far, they can.
The Republican base, in other words, has been more or less fully radicalized.
One in 3 Republicans thinks that violence is necessary to defend their way of life and save the country, whatever that even means. It doesn’t mean anything, really. It just means they’re out for blood. That they crave violence, the thrill of it, that they lust for it. All those guns they’ve been buying forever? They want to now use them.
This is a sea change in norms. Or maybe a sea change backward in norms. I’ve never been a fan of Republicans — that should be obvious, though it doesn’t mean I’m a fan of the Dems. Still, something is different now.
The mood and atmosphere among the base seem now to be about open bloodlust and violence. After the recent very public trial a notorious shooter who opened fire on three people, killing two, Republicans expressed no condolences for the victims — whom the judge wouldn’t even allow to be called victims. Instead, they openly celebrated killing and death.
That is not normal. The only other places that people like me, who’ve studied and lived through social collapse, fascist implosion, have seen this change in moods and attitudes is in societies right before the worst comes to pass.
It is not remotely normal for half a society, more or less, to revel in ultraviolence, to applaud violent death.
And no, Republicans haven’t always been like this either. There was a period, at least, between civil rights and Trumpism, where violence was not acceptable among Republicans.
After the trial [of Kyle Rittenhouse], Republicans expressed no condolences for the victims — which the judge wouldn’t even allow to be called victims. Instead, they openly celebrated killing and death.
But now the mood is different. Republicans have reverted to type.
They are much more like the white supremacists of the 1960s — who opposed civil rights and would regularly abuse civil rights leaders, like John Lewis in public — than the GOP of the ’80s or the ’90s. They want not just violence but ultra-violence. The notorious shooter seemed to have finished off one of his targets with a “kill shot” to the back. It wasn’t enough just to kill. There had to be overkill. All that rage and hate had to come out in the form of extreme violence.
Let me say it again. Republicans have become manically bloodthirsty. They glorify ultra-violence. They justify it as self-defense. They legitimize it as necessary to save the country. They want a nation of supremacist vigilantes, gunning down people in cold blood — why else are they celebrating just that? For them, Jan. 6 was a fond memory — and a beginning.
This thirst for blood is not normal.
It is profoundly, profoundly disturbing: This kind of change in attitudes, this hardening of brutality, this mass maniacal craving for ultra-violence.
It’s a mania in the sense that it’s sweeping the base. The average Republican seems to genuinely crave ultraviolence, the bloody punishment of those they consider subhumans — because that is the new norm that’s emerged among their tribe.
If you don’t think that way, then you’re not really one of them, it seems.
But this change in attitudes — bloodlust — is one of the strongest predictors of fascist collapse there is.
Where else have we seen it? Before genocide and civil war. It’s what swept the Balkans. What happened in Rwanda.
When ultra-violence becomes a norm, glorified, celebrated, and when normal human emotions like remorse and shame and guilt cease — look out. Something very, very grim is happening to a country.
What is that something, though?
Well, why is the Republican base suddenly so…into ultra-violence? Why isn’t it even coded in dog whistles and polite excuses anymore? Why is it suddenly that gunning down people you disagree with politically, maybe people you think of as subhuman, in the streets is mere self defense?
Because that is what the Republican leadership is goading the base into wanting and believing and craving.
Think of how Republican leadership defines the party. During the trial of the notorious shooter who gunned down people, two of them without firearms, a Republican congressman sent a video to a congresswoman where he murdered her.
Ha ha! Just kidding! But of course it’s not just a joke.
If I were to approach someone random on the street and joke about killing them, I’d probably have the cops called on me. If I told someone at work I was going to kill them, I’d be fired in an instant. It’s not a joke, because it crosses a red line.
That red line is the same one we’ve been discussing: ultra-violence. Here we have Republican congressmen now seeming to be calling for the assassination of an opponent.
They are legitimizing bloodlust and ultra-violence. They’re licensing it. Encouraging it and inciting it.
It’s not a joke, but the message that it’s a joke is the message. They’re sending a message that if you go out and actually do this stuff, you’ll be protected, rewarded, looked out for, because it’s on the level of a joke. It’s that meaningless, that trivial, that forgettable.
No wonder that, increasingly, the Republican base is picking up guns and beginning to shoot. The message coming from the top is: Violence isn’t just OK, it’s necessary, desirable, a good thing. Our new norm, the new set of values in our political tribe, is to use violence to settle any differences. We will simply attack and annihilate anyone standing in our way.
It’s no shocker then that teenagers are shooting people in the streets.That’s the message they’re hearing. It’s little wonder that armed Republicans carrying machine guns are commonplace sights in American political life.
But again, that’s not remotely normal. Because when you carry a machine gun in a democracy, something has gone badly wrong. With you. You are saying that you don’t believe in consent or equality or peace. You will use force to get your way if necessary, and you believe that anyone standing in your way is a subhuman, who deserves a bullet, not a human being with the same rights and freedoms as you.
If you think I’m kidding, think about what happens when Republicans use their guns.
When they do, they don’t get punished. They get rich, famous and powerful. They’re lionized. They get invited to become congressional interns and pundits for entertainment channel Fox News.
This is an institutional infrastructure for violence emerging. Shoot — and we’ll take care of you, kid. Do the right thing. They’re subhumans. You eliminate them for us. And we’ll give you money, power and fame. And maybe even an official title.
Where does this road end? Well, what is happening in America now is the construction of genuinely Nazi institutions and values, not just fascist ones.
There’s an important distinction between fascism and Nazism.
Fascism is an abstraction, a project of teaching the true of faith and pure of blood that they’re the long-suffering chosen people, wrongly persecuted by hated minorities, and all they have to do is violently attack those minorities to reclaim their status as ubermen.
Nazism is when all that begins to happen in the real world.
And that is what is happening in America right now. America is seeing the transition from fascism to Nazism.
The Republicans have become something very much like an emerging Nazi party. Again, let’s go through the evidence.
They have Nazi values — they promote and incite violence. They are building Nazi institutions — a new era of Jim Crow, which turns minorities into second-class citizens, if that, vigilante justice laws that leave any woman or minority at the mercy of any man who’s pure and true. I could go on.
The GOP is the closest thing that the rich world has to a Nazi Party by a very, very long way, and it’s eerily close right now to the Nazi Party as it was maturing.
What institutions will it build next? Well, you can see them in plain sight. Brownshirts. SSs. Gestapos. All the shooters to be inspired by the exoneration of the others — will they become congressional interns, too?
More likely, they’ll form the youth wing of an American SS. Think about what happened in Nazi Germany. There, too, extrajudicial assassinations of hated minorities were key to the rise of fascism. Beat a Jew, punch a Jew, shoot a Jew. And those performing this violence? They weren’t punished. They were rewarded. With official titles. They were made obersturmfuhrers and whatnot, little SS leaders in every town. The most violent bully was made the overseer, whose job it was to enforce Nazi ideology and conduct.
Let me put that to you a slightly different way. What happens as the killings, inspired by the most recent ones, multiply? Will there be justice for those? Of course not — there wasn’t justice for this one. The precedent has been set. And that means that a certain dynamic is starting to occur: institutional construction through violence.
What that strange turn of phrase means, simply, is that the most violent and bloodthirsty rise to the top.
That is one of the primary mechanisms of Nazism. We can see it clearly at work in Republicans, too. The moderates have been pushed out, with a jeer. They’re not bloodthirsty enough, not extreme enough. They’re too peaceful, too middle of the road. In their place has risen a new wave of fanatical GOP leaders. And each is more openly bloodthirsty than the last. They’ve gone from intimidation and harassment to open death threats.
Hence, that is what their base has done, too. It’s not just the shooters you should be worried about. It’s the fact that average Republicans are issuing death threats to teachers, principals, municipal officials. Again, not normal. And different. Republicans even a decade or two or three didn’t do this. This is new. This is Nazism.
This is an entire political side united in a new — or very old — politics. Democracy is inconsequential. Any opposition is to be annihilated as violently as possible. Take a look at today’s shooters. Now, look at the average Republican sending death threats to teachers. How long is it before one becomes the other?
Now, look at the leadership. They’re not tamping all this down — they’re inciting it.
There’s no sense that this is wrong, too much, too far. The only sense is that this isn’t nearly far enough. Ha-ha, my death threat was just a joke. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
Any surprise teachers and local officials are getting death threats, too? They’re looking at their leaders, the leaders of their tribe, who are doing just the same thing. They feel vindicated, thrilled, exonerated, licensed.
This is profoundly, profoundly abnormal. All this, together? This is Nazism. The actual and real thing. When there is a political side for whom violence is not just OK, but desirable, which craves extreme forms of violence, openly, aggressively? When all that is incited from the top? When the most violent are selected for the rewards of power and position — not punished? When that violence is targeted at those who are considered subhumans and those on the side of the subhumans? The ones who have purportedly stolen the country — and the election — from the true of faith and the pure of blood?
It’s not just fascism any more. It’s not some abstract pseudo-philosophical discussion — a ludicrous one — about how oppressed our race is, or how they took everything from us, or how they’re out to get us and we’re the persecuted ones even though we’re really the chosen ones. It’s not some kind of theory or paradigm anymore. It is Nazism in the real world. It is the construction of fascist politics, norms, values, expressions and desires — which is Nazism.
Let me say it again. The rising tide of violence on the American right is Nazism.
Once, I might have said “the hard right.” But there is no softer right anymore, is there? The hard right is the only right, and it’s hard in the sense that it wants to use an iron fist to eliminate any opposition.
To what? To its dream of an ethnically purified supremacist state. Which is what all those Jim Crow and vigilante laws — not to mention the overt hate — are about.
So how far away is a Final Solution? You begin to see why I shudder. Let me sum up those dismal trends.
- One, the Republican base has been fully radicalized: They accept, even crave violence, supremacy and annihilation and abjure and reject democracy, equality and peace.
- Two: the party leadership incites all this, rewarding the most violent, just as they were rewarded for being the most violent, pushing the moderates out, issuing death threats and so forth.
- Three: Together, all this is the emergence of proper Nazism.
Four: That brings me to my fourth dismal trend. Biden’s sinking Presidency. Biden’s doing abysmally badly.
Yes, passing the infrastructure bill will shore up his waning fortunes. But how much?
If history’s any guide, the answer is: not enough. It takes full-blown social reconstruction plans to avert fascism — and that’s if you’re lucky.
The Democrats didn’t offer one. They didn’t pursue a special justice process for Trumpism, either, like the Nuremberg Trials. Hence, today’s wave of GOP leaders are even more fanatical, because, well, who’s punishing them for transgressing deeper and deeper into the wilds of violence and hate? Nobody is.
Biden’s presidency will probably be a failed one. I don’t want it to be, but the economist in me has a bad feeling that history is not a kind mistress. It’s hard to see how at this juncture a half-baked not much of a social agenda can stem the growing tide of violence and hate in America.
Put all that together, and what do you have? A very, very bleak picture. America’s heading into a perfect storm of fascism.
The liberals didn’t punish the fascists. The fascist became Nazis. The Nazis taught their base to become little Nazis, too. Violence and hate spread from abstract ideological goals, to real ones pursued by average people with machine guns and death threats.
America appears to have a nascent Nazi side all its own. And it’s out for blood, in the most severe and frightening way, really out for blood, as in celebrating murder and cheering on bloodshed. A society cannot often come back from that.
First, it has to melt down into a ritualized mania of mass violence. A Holocaust needs to happen before a society as lost as America in a frenzied mania of violence and hate regains its senses more often than not.
Let me add one final note of caution. I have seen many societies collapse into fascism. But I have almost never, ever seen the bizarre mood, the atmosphere in America today among the right. The open jubilance over violence, undiluted by any moral goodness or decency or sanity. Nobody is saying stop, enough, this isn’t right. A genuine social mania for blood and violence is taking hold.
Hence, something truly frightening and spectacular is happening: There’s a kind of intensifying pure unadulterated glee over killing and death that is spreading like a raging wildfire among the American right today.
It’s like the American right has become one giant lynch mob, baying for retribution, each cry for blood and pain reinforcing and accelerating the mania of the next one. It is something that is rare — and terrifying to behold: a social scale mania for extreme violence.
That is something startling and frightening and deeply, deeply abnormal, even among us observers of social collapse. We rarely see something like this happen during social collapses. The toxic dynamic between leadership and base — one incites, the other believes, and so on — is leading to a runaway mania for collective violence.
This is really, really bad and scary and horrific. Red America’s runaway mania for collective violence, which ignited on Jan. 6, is growing too fast and hard to be contained. It is going off the charts.
You should probably begin to prepare for the worst, because even in the most hardcore social collapses that I’ve seen, there was some semblance of sanity and dignity retained among the fascist right, some restraint, some limit.
In America right now? There’s none. If you ask me, there couldn’t possibly be a worse omen than that.
This article first appeared on Medium.